Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Working it Out

I've been taking a new (to me) class at the gym that focuses on interval training. I love the way it makes me stretch, offering a challenging alternative to my solo workouts. The instructor's great: energetic, positive, and pushes students only as far as they'd like to be pushed. But, the other day, she began to talk in class about her dessert consumption. "I ate some cake the other night, and it went right here!" (pointing to outer thighs) Later on in the class, she again mentioned consuming cake and cookies and said, "Who else was eating cookies? I know I'm not the only one!" (As in, let's all work that much harder--we must work off our sweets!)

Just a bit of background in case you're confused as to why I found this troubling: Cookies and cake are not bad. We do not need to atone for eating them through exercise. Exercise (with or without cookies/cake) is beneficial to our physical and psychological health.

Ok, so what does an eating disorder psychologist (who also has a fitness background)do in a situation like this? I like the class, but dislike those kinds of messages. And, I have a bit of a political agenda, truth be told. So, I approached the instructor after class and told her I had enjoyed it, but had a small concern. I mentioned the work I do and the prevalence of eating disorders. I even spectulated on the incidence of eating disorders among class participants (yes, I know not EWHAED, but if I had to gamble, I'd say rates might be higher in this class than in the general population). I explained to the instructor that comments that linked exercise to food might be triggering for some, unhelpful to many, and that I always appreciate a dialogue that focuses on the health and wellness benefits of exercise, rather than its role in calorie management. I tried to convey this in a casual way, as I can imagine feeling a bit on the defensive if approached with similar feedback. So, here's the kicker--she says, "You're right, you're totally right. Actually, I'm a social worker."

16 comments:

Fattie said...

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29225123/

Thought you might find this story interesting. I just really love the part where she says she's never weighed herself in her life. I mean, really?! That's right up there with "I didn't know I lost weight" after losing 40+ pounds. Ugh.

Katkinkate said...

Did the instructor agree to curb the diet obsessive comments in future lessons? Better yet, did you and her script out some positive reinforcement statements to replace them?

Leigh said...

I'm a ballet instructor who works with adults and teens and I've had an ED for most of my life. I am very conscious of the words I put out there when I'm teaching my students. I emphasize proper alignment and give corrections that will help people dance better - looking better (longer, leaner legs, etc.) is an added bonus, not the goal.

I think your fitness instructor is probably working out her own weight demons and projecting them onto the class, hoping to make a connection with like-minded students.

azusmom said...

Wow! Good for you for speaking up, and good for her for listening without getting defensive!
It's easy, when teaching a class, to fall into the pattern you describe. Like Leigh, I try to focus on proper alignment and the health benefits of each exercise, rather than "this one's gonna give you a great butt!" But since I have a history of EDs and come from a performance background, it's a constant self-monitoring process.
And, sometimes, fitness instructors/personal trainers have horrible issues with food. Because often your physique is the advertisement for your services!

brooklyn_bound_F_train said...

Wow, when I work out hard, the last thing I think about is cookies...cake...or atonement for eating cookies or cake. Or any food for that matter. When I work out I think about how awesome my muscles feel from strength and endurance sets of exercises. If someone even said the word 'cookie' while I was on my final reps in a set, I doubt my criticism would be quite as constructive. Seriously...not the time. In fact, I'm very impressed by your ability to hold it together. Listening to my college girlfriends proclaim how "bad" they are being for daring to put a bite of cake into their mouths is like having a mental root canal to me. If an actual fitness trainer broke that crap out while I was trying to focus on my form...
Ugh, just show me some exercises to do to help me straighten out my poor posture. I'll deal with cookies if and when I feel like eating a cookie. Why do women have to worry about cookies and cake every damn minute?

Lindsay said...

Brooklyn-Bound F Train, that's me as well. For me, the exercise does not cancel out the food; the food gives me the energy to do the exercise!

Dr. Stacey, that's great that she acknowledged she was wrong to say those things. Hopefully she will remember, and try not to talk like that in the future.

I also think Leigh is right, though, and the instructor is making those comments because it's how she thinks about exercise. But maybe if she tries not to talk that way so as not to trigger her students, she might start to think differently about exercise herself?

littlem said...

*waves*

I'm like brooklyn_bound_F_train - I'm not thinking about burning off sweets; I'm just trying to get through class without undue collapse.

So I'd like to know what Katkinkate wants to know -- did she agree to rein it in?

One Monkey said...

I've come across the same issue in the group classes at my gym, and it annoys the crap out of me. Every instructor I've taken a class with participates in food/body shaming. I'd like to write a letter to the management (not naming anybody) to explain why this is not constructive, but not being a professional on the subject, I'm not sure how to begin.

Girl said...

That is awesome! I wish i had the guts to say things like that when they need and should be said to help educate ppl! Good job :)

TwistedBarbie said...

Thats awesome dr. Stacey.
Im a social worker as well and I am always astounded by how my colleagues make weight and food comments around clients. Its obnoxious!
You said you have a political agenda (thank god)...
Send me an email... I have a project you might be interested in..
Twistedbarbie@gmail.com

April said...

Hello!!!

Long time no comment... I read you every time you post, but have been to busy to chime in! Glad to see you're well!

I wonder if you've tried yoga much. I've found that the classes at my yoga studio encourage us to be very accepting of our bodies wherever we're at, and to rejoice in this moment of our ability, no matter what that is. It's incredibly affirming.

My yoga studio may be especially attuned to this sort of thing, but I know I've found both the practice and the fellowship of the teachers and students to be a very body-positive experience.

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Donna said...

A source of never-ending frustration to me, as a woman who is trying to forge a healthy body image in a dysfunctional and shaming environment, is being around other women and the running dialogue about food and weight. "OMG I had two cookies earlier today. I'm so BAAAAD! I'll have to do 20 extra minutes on the Stairmaster!" Yes, I understand this is a common way that women bond socially in an eating disordered culture but I really hate it and I refuse to participate in such discussions. If I know the women well enough I tell them why.

LG said...

Good for you for speaking up about this in a kind way!

Andrea said...

Wow, I'm impressed both with your diplomacy in approaching the instructor and with her willingness to react constructively rather than defensively. Well done.

senior-dog-fan said...

It takes courage to speak up when one has something important and necessary to say and skill to say it effectively. Well done.

cinnamonapple said...

I've found myself in this same situation and ended up not returning to the class. I wish I'd had the courage to tell the instructor exactly what you did.